USA

All hail HAO

North Carolina Courage players salute Heather O'Reilly
© imago images
  • Heather O’Reilly ended her magnificent career in style
  • FIFA.com pays tribute with stats, facts and quotes
  • Justin Timberlake, a prom dress and “rock-hard abs” feature

One of the most beloved soccer players in history hung up her cleats on Sunday night. Fittingly, Heather O’Reilly’s last hurrah was unforgettable as she helped North Carolina Courage retain the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) crown with an emphatic 4-0 win over Chicago Red Stars.

FIFA.com spotlights the consequential career of 'HAO'.

From Justin groupie to Mia fan

I was on my way to Giants Stadium to watch the US national team open the tournament against Denmark at the 1999 World Cup," said O'Reilly. "Truthfully, I was more excited to see NSYNC perform the national anthem than I was to see the game. In the parking lot we tailgated, we juggled and passed a ball around, and blasted some I Want You Back. Inside the stadium the crowd was unbelievable. Mia Hamm scored a stunning goal to open the match, and the place went nuts. Even 14-year-old me got a little emotional. That team in ’99 put women’s soccer on the map. They captivated a nation. I wanted to be like them.

What to wear to prom?

Heather O’Reilly was a 17-year-old in high school when she made her senior USA debut in 2002. "She's funny, she's naive, she's cute," said coach April Heinrichs at the time. During a trip to China PR for the 2003 Four Nations Tournament, she sought out Mia Hamm and Aly Wagner for advice on what dress to wear to her prom!

It was a dream come true – 17 years old and I’m playing with Mia Hamm and idols I had posters of on my bedroom wall," said the New Jersey native. "But it was nerve-wracking. It took me a while to realise I was there on merit and not because I won a contest on the back of a cereal box.

Kids in Canada

O’Reilly played at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup – then a U-19 event – in 2002 along with the likes of Camille Abily, Lori Chalupny, Cristiane, Laura Georges, Marta, Anja Mittag, Alex Scott, Christine Sinclair, Lindsay Tarpley and Fara Williams. She contributed four goals and seven assists as USA thrashed England 5-1, Australia 4-0, Chinese Taipei 6-0, Denmark 6-0 and Germany 4-1, before edging hosts Canada 1-0 in the final.

She was absolutely unstoppable,” said Denmark goalkeeper Sarah Andersen after O’Reilly scored two and set up another two in their quarter-final. “She’s fast, skilful, always running, can pass, cross, shoot really hard from distance and score from close-range. I’m sure she will have a great career.

Blazing beneath Olympic flames

A broken fibula ruled O’Reilly out of the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003™, but she was the youngest member of Heinrichs’ squad at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004. The then 19-year-old came off the bench and scored an extra-time winner against Germany to put the USWNT in the final, which they conquered with a 2-1 defeat of Brazil in Athens.

O’Reilly scored the fastest goal in women’s Olympic history – it has since been outranked by Canadian Janine Beckie’s goal at Rio 2016 – and helped the US to glory at Beijing 2008, before winning a third gold at London 2012.

USA players Tobin Heath, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Heather O'Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley celebrate winning Olympic gold at Beijing 2008
© imago images

Game face

The game face is hard to put into words, because I don’t know I’m doing it," explained O'Reilly. "Basically, whenever I compete in sports, for some reason I get this very intense look on my face called the game face. It’s funny because off the field, I’m pretty upbeat, positive, joking around, but once the whistle blows it gets very intense and I put on the game face.

Heather O'Reilly and her game face
© Getty Images

FIFA Women’s World Cup highs

O’Reilly helped USA to bronze at China 2007, scored a scorcher against Colombia at Germany 2011, and lifted the trophy at Canada 2015.

Did You Know?

  • O’Reilly got a degree in education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she met her husband Dave Werry, who was a lacrosse prospect.
  • Her nickname is 'HAO', which stands for Heather Ann O’Reilly.
  • The former North Carolina Tar Heels star's favourite food is… cereal!
  • She regards Stockholm as the best city she’s visited.
  • She loves basketball and TV series Friends.
  • Lori Chalupny once broke her hand after it collided with O’Reilly’s “rock-hard abs”.
  • O’Reilly, husband Dave and friends own and run the Carolina Coffee Shop, which first opened in 1922, in Chapel Hill.

The first farewell

O’Reilly called time on a 14-year international career in 2016. In her swansong, her family and Mia Hamm presented her with a tribute No9 shirt pre-match. Then, against Thailand, O’Reilly’s every touch was cheered. She scored one and set up two in a 9-0 win.

O’Reilly hoped to be substituted, so she could thank the fans, but saw those hopes disappear when she was not the sixth and final player taken off by Jill Ellis. But with a few minutes remaining, the beloved coach summoned O’Reilly off the field. The rapturous, unforgettable reception she received had her in tears.

She’s the best team-mate I ever had,” said Ali Krieger at the time. “She’s such an inspiration for so many young athletes, but also for us – her current team-mates and the players in the National Women’s Soccer League. She’s been a legend.

Most-capped women's internationals

Player Country Caps
Kristine Lilly USA 352
Christie Rampone USA 311
Christine Sinclair Canada 287
Carli Lloyd USA 286
Mia Hamm USA 276
Julie Foudy USA 274
Abby Wambach USA 255
Joy Fawcett USA 241
Heather O'Reilly USA 231
Pu Wei China PR 219

USA's assist leaders

Player Assists
Mia Hamm 145
Kristine Lilly 106
Abby Wambach 73
Tiffeny Milbrett 64
Megan Rapinoe 64
Julie Foudy 55
Carli Lloyd 53
Heather O'Reilly 52
Shannon MacMillan 50
Carin Jennings-Gabarra 48

The final goodbye

O’Reilly began her career up front before moving out to the wing. An injury crisis – Ryan Williams, Hailey Harbison and Merritt Mathias were all ruled out – forced Courage coach Paul Riley to deploy the 34-year-old in an unschooled right-back role for her final five games. Her response? Sterling jobs on The Best FIFA Women’s Player holder Megan Rapinoe in the NWSL semi-finals and Japanese standout Yuki Nagasato in the final.

I’ll remember doing angels on the field in the confetti and looking up at the sky,” said O’Reilly after her final career appearance. “I’ll remember the locker room scene. A lot of Budweiser. It was a packed house tonight. It was special. I’m all cried out, at least right now. I feel like I’m in a really good, peaceful time. That was incredible. They kind of saw me off the field, but I didn’t want to take anything away from the team.

The future

I’d be totally interested in pro [coaching]," said O'Reilly. "And in men’s soccer or boy's soccer. Why not? I’m not just going to limit myself to the women’s side.

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